Book review: One Day
Twenty years, two people… One Day. A Brilliant series of post card snapshots of two people's lives whose thoughts, actions and personalities could so easily mirror our own.
One Day by David Nicholls (Hodder & Stoughton)
After reading this book, I've come to the conclusion that it is so much harder to write a review for a book that you genuinely love as opposed to reviewing a book that just didn't have as much of an impact on you.
And with this book, there are just so many good things about it that it's going to be very hard to prevent myself from writing an actual short story about why this 2010 Exclusive Books Boeke Prize (The South African version of the Man Booker Prize award) nominee is such a fantastic read.
Because fantastic this book certainly is. Wait. Let me try and explain.
The thing about fiction is that often the characters you come across in most books often seem just a little unrealistic. Which, to be honest, is perfectly fine because it is fiction and as we all know, fiction is almost every book lover's favourite escapism drug.
Therefore, in my mind, it is sometimes ok when some characters (although they have flaws) seem to be a little too good to be true. And it's ok when they have supernatural abilities that make them seem more godlike than human. Because, let's face it - most of us, me included, revel in the fantastical (I wouldn't be a fan of the paranormal genre otherwise).
Yet, every now and then, one comes across characters who feel almost as if they've been modeled from real life.
One Day is one such book.
In fact, the characters in One Day are so real, it feels almost like David Nicholls gathered the world in a room, spent a day with each and every single person and shaped his characters using fragments of every single person's thoughts and characteristic traits on this earth, all in order to come up with Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew.
The story revolves around 2 people, namely the above-mentioned characters. They meet on the night of the 15th July - a day before graduating from college and inadvertently become good friends.
Emma is a wannabe writer (with 2 degrees) who errs on the side of self-deprecation and has very little confidence in herself. She's bright, surprisingly witty, has altruistic notions (she wants to save the world), but tends to be very preachy and judgemental of others who have more than her. For the first part of the novel, she also comes across as lacking any real drive to do anything about her future; something I suppose could be contributed to the lack of belief in herself.
Dexter, on the other hand is everything most girls want and hate at the same time. He's arrogant, wealthy, ridiculously good looking and incredibly charming and charismatic.
At the same time, although not bright as Emma, he is a go-getter in comparison to Emma's timidity - something which Emma seems to recognise and automatically causes her to become even more judgemental of his lifestyle.
We bear witness to how they develop over the years and can't help but cringe at the bad choices and appalling mistakes both make - though Dexter's crash is far more significant given his arrogance and quest for fame. We as the reader are also given one day per year (The One Day is very, very significant) to find out what's been happening to them and to basically fill in the blanks and draw our own conclusion as to what has happened in between.
For many, this could be very jarring, but David Nicholls just makes it work.
Reading this book is actually a lot like watching a film reel while tripping on acid, except that you suffer no lasting damage besides experiencing the heady emotions and snapshots of the bohemian and exotic locations that seem to jump out of this book, crackling with a hedonistic sort of energy you wish you could bottle and sell.
What gives this book its strength, is that in spite of how annoying these characters probably sound (and at times come across), Nicholls manages to make you feel as if you're not only able to relate to them, but also manages to make you love them.
Watching the characters grow and learn is such a pleasure because it really feels as if it's you who is on the journey and not just the characters.
It's no HEA, but this beautiful, tragic comedy leaves you with the feeling that it's ok to stumble, fall and even hit rock bottom and remember that life is about being human and not a well-oiled machine. It also leaves you with the belief that you can change the world on your own terms.
It's a story about losing and finding yourself. It's about love and loss and finding hope in the dourest of circumstances. Mostly, it's a story that tells you (without moralising or preaching) that no matter what happens, that as long as you get up and try, things will somehow work out - even if you don't believe it right at that point in time.
To sum it up, here is a quote from the book, which I think captures the novel's very essence:
“Better by far to simply try and be good and outrageous and bold and to make a difference. Not change the world exactly, but the bit around you. Go out there with your passion and your electric typewriter and work hard at...something. Change lives through art maybe. Cherish your friends, stay true to your principles, live passionately and fully and well. Experience new things. Love and be loved, if you ever get the chance.”
…When the book ends, you somehow just know that you will desperately miss these characters who have unwittingly become your friends.
I've just recently finished it, yet I miss these characters already. Go out and read it - It's one of the best novels I've come across this year and a it's a book I'll read over and over again.
My final rating: 5/5 stars